Slideshow: Ask a Cicerone: The Best Beers to Drink with Burgers

Helles Lager or Saison
Helles Lager or Saison

"I love hamburgers and I feel like a helles lager is my desert island pairing for them. These German lagers have the right carbonation to cut the unctuous meat, the bite to stand up to pepper, and you know the brightness (the very definition of helles!) will zip alongside your traditional toppings. It'll even scrub fatty bacon away to prepare you for the next bite. Once you get into spicier toppings like hot peppers and spicy brown mustard, I would certainly jump to a hoppier beer to match the intensity, and if we are doing more umami-rich toppings (grilled mushrooms, savory grilled onions, earthy cheeses) I would dart over to whatever herbaceous saisons you can find." — Chris Elford (Saison)

Stone Levitation
Stone Levitation

"Stone Levitation is a versatile beer to pair with burgers. The caramel malts link up nicely with the char of the meat while the excellent hop character will help clean up the greasy nature of the burger. Once you start to add in more exotic accessories and condiments, you may need to make adjustments to your beer. A burger with aged cheddar and bacon might prefer to have a milder, maltier IPA or a brisk pale ale. The added hop acidity and bitterness will slice through the bacon fat and link up with the sharp nature of the cheddar. If you add mushrooms to your burger, perhaps a robust brown ale with some earthy malts will make the pairing dance across your palate. Pairing a burger is more than just the meat, it's a whole host of variables that make the exercise a fun game of matching bliss." — Christopher Barnes (I Think About Beer & Columbia Distributing)

Pale Ale or IPA Unless There's Spice
Pale Ale or IPA Unless There's Spice

"To me, there's nothing much better than a good burger, fries, and a pale ale or an IPA. If there's going to be bacon and a lot of mustard, then maybe something with a little bit more of a malt backbone, like an American brown or a Scottish or Scotch ale. That also works if you've got anything with heat on it, like some spicy aioli, or peppers. A pale ale or IPA will only exacerbate the heat, while the maltiness will counter it." — Adam Sivits (Whole Foods Beer Room (Bowery, NYC))

Depends on the Condiments
Depends on the Condiments

"Condiments run the range of sour (mustard/pickle/cheeses), sweet (ketchup/relish), salty and earthy (mushrooms/cheeses). I prefer sweeter beers with sour and earthy condiments and hoppier beers with sweet and salty condiments." — Chris Karl (Yogi's Grill & Bar)

Double Red or Rye IPA
Double Red or Rye IPA

"I love a good Double Red or Rye IPA such as Sierra Nevada's Ruthless Rye with a burger. The maltiness of these beers from the caramel malt or rye malt have a certain umami flavor to them that pairs well with a juicy burger as well as most condiments including spicy mustard, onions, and green chilies." — Ron Kloth (Papago Brewing Company)

Let's Talk Options
Let's Talk Options

"For me, a beer that cuts through richness and fat is key here, but the ingredients for the burger, the toppings and condiments all play a big part in the pairing. Let's talk about a few combinations. For a classic all-beef with American cheese and ketchup, I would pair that with a hoppy pilsner, a light pale, or kolsch.

A lamb burger with roasted red peppers and goat cheese would pair incredibly with a Belgian Tripel, Saison, or wheat beer. A turkey burger with pepper jack cheese and roasted mushrooms pairs well with a nutty, earthy, hoppy brown like Avery Ellie's Brown or Deschutes Black Butte Porter." — Ryan Conklin (Old Major)

Depends on the Toppings
Depends on the Toppings

"I hold strong that Firestone DBA is one of the best food beers I've ever had, so that will be my first generic answer. However, a burger with jalapeños, a fried egg, and bacon deserves something with a little more complexity—perhaps a Ballast Point Sculpin IPA? How about a burger with arugula, bacon, goat cheese and fig marmalade? This burger would be best paired with a New Belgium La Folie! Condiments and toppings play an essential role in determining what beer will pair best with a burger." — Sarah Huska (Eureka! Burger)

A Solid Pale Ale
A Solid Pale Ale

"When it comes to the typical bacon, lettuce, pickle, ketchup, mustard burger I think a solid pale ale does the trick nicely. Anderson Valley's Poleeko Pale Ale has subtle bitterness to cut the fat of the meat, the hop flavor and aroma complements the vegetables and seasoning with their fruity/spicy notes, and the carbonation scrubs your tongue making you anxious for the next bite.

Condiments change the flavor of the burger. It's best to pair the most prominent flavors. Take a Hawaiian burger for instance. You have the sweet notes from the pineapple and the fatty, richness of bacon. For this burger, I'd choose an effervescent Imperial Pilsner such as the Hitachino Ancient Nipponia. It has some great citrus notes thanks to the Sorachi Ace hops used in it to match the pineapple and a good amount of carbonation to cut through the bacon." — Troy Zitzelsberger (Reilly's Taphouse & Brewing Co.)

American Amber
American Amber

"I prefer American Amber for a lightly topped burger. These are similar to American Pale Ales however they have a bit more of a malt character to them while still retaining the aggressive hop personality that American Pales are known for. Bootlegger’s Rocco Red comes to mind first for me. The caramely flavors of the Amber Ale will infuse themselves with the meat juices and letting the hops take care of kissing the toppings and taking them for a night out. Another beer perfect for this situation is an Oktoberfest/Märzen Bier, especially with grilled onion on your burger.

When aggressive condiments are used, perhaps we need to rethink what beer to use. It might be best to contrast the condiment. For situations like this, I would suggest an Amber Lager such as Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The lager quality of these brews allows the hops to take center stage and really contrast any overpowering condiments on your burger." — Gilbert Perez (Terms of Enbeerment)

Cream Ale
Cream Ale

"My favorite beer to pair with a burger is a cream ale, like Genesee Cream ale, or Cameron's Cream Ale. Cream ale will let all the flavors of the burger and its toppings come through, and provide enough carbonation 'sting' to clear your palate between bites. The more intensely flavored elements you put on a burger (blue cheese, smoked bacon), the stronger the beer you can begin to pair with." — Peter Campagna (O&B Restaurant Company)

Firestone Walker's Double Barrel Ale
Firestone Walker's Double Barrel Ale

"I feel that the burger caters to umami and I try to find something that can play alongside that but also cleanses the palate as well. My favorite beer to pair with almost any burger is Firestone Walker's Double Barrel Ale. The beer is fantastic enough to stand on its own but with a burger, it's dynamite. I feel that it's balanced enough that it can stand up to sautéed onions, mushrooms, blue cheese, etc. but has enough of a hop presence to not feel overly weighty on the tongue. It accentuates as well as contrasts. If I put a lot of mayonnaise on a burger I will tend to stick to something lighter and rely on a higher carbonation beer to really get down and scrub those fats off of the palate. You could even go with a hoppier beer for the same effect as those hops will help cleanse the palate as well. In general I tend to stick towards the lighter end of the spectrum in terms of mouthfeel. I don't like having a big beer alongside a burger as it slows me down and fills me up too much." — Dave Woodruff (Steamworks Brewing Company)

West Coast IPA
West Coast IPA

"I’m a sucker for the classics here. Give me a standard cheeseburger with great beef cooked med/med-rare, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion mustard, a toasted bun and a good West Coast IPA like a Sculpin or an Alpine Duet. They will stand up to the beef, and the hops will cut through the fat, intensify the brightness of the acidic tomatoes and mustard, and leave your palate washed clean for each new bite. If you’re adding on mushrooms and Swiss, you’ll probably want to seek out earthy tones in the beer to match. Perhaps with some English hops. I’m thinking Robust Porter here. If you go for blue cheese and maybe a bit of bacon, the intensity has increased so up the ante with a Double/Imperial IPA." — Kelsey Williams (Drake's Brewing Co. & Triple Rock Brewing)

Highly Hopped Beers
Highly Hopped Beers

"It's hard to beat an IPA when having burgers. I love to suggest Avery's Maharaja, an Imperial IPA, but most any highly hopped style will do, preferably with American hop varieties as commonly found in West Coast IPAs. A burger is often greasy fare which is a dominant characteristic. It needs something to tame it and hop bitterness does very well." — Jim Brady (Bone Island Brewing)

Most Beers (and Burgers) Are Winners
Most Beers (and Burgers) Are Winners

"Almost any beer will go great with almost any burger. Unless there is something extreme about either the beer or the burger, it's delicious. The only way you can go wrong is to make the beer or burger something that you wouldn't like to begin with." — Matt Eggers (Dog & Duck Pub)

Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager
Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager

"Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager. We actually call this the 'Hamburger Beer' at work. The toasted malt character imparts a nice caramelized sweetness which stands up to the charred but juicy beef flavor/texture of the burger. The beer finishes clean and doesn't overpower condiments but pairs especially well with aged cow's milk or nutty sheep cheeses." — Jack Van Paepeghem (Meridian Pint)

Schwarzbier from Kostritzer
Schwarzbier from Kostritzer
"Condiments can really change your burger. I like a little grilled jalapeno and I like to fire up my taste buds with an IPA. I'd go with a more malt balanced IPA like Bell's Two Hearted. My hands down number one favorite style for burgers is Schwarzbier. Kostritzer makes one you can probably find around town. It's dark, roasty, but not very heavy and has good carbonation, which is something you want to refresh your palate when you're eating ground beef and cheese." — Gabriel Boden (Revolution Brewing)
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

"Call me traditional, but my favorite burger beer is still Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. More often than not, I prefer to pile an assortment of other goodies on my burgers, from bacon and eggs to a pleasantly stinky Stilton, so I keep in mind both the natural flavor of the meat, and any other creative impulse stacked upon it. The earthy malt character melds with the fattiness of a perfectly cooked, medium rare burger, while the spicy hop finish cuts right into almost all types of cheeses adorning burgers these days. Other great beer styles that pair well with burgers are sturdier Belgian Pales and Dubbels." — Eric Hobbs (Penrose Brewing)

Brooklyn Brown or Anchor Steam
Brooklyn Brown or Anchor Steam

"Brooklyn Brown. Perfect. Toasty, lightly roasty malt notes are echoed in the meat and the bun. Hoppy enough to play well with both ketchup and mustard. But maybe you want something lighter. Guess what?  Anchor Steam. Yeah. Nobody ever sees that coming. The fruity aspects provide a nice contrast to all the big burger flavors." — Henry Joseph (The Pony Bar, Upper East Side)

APA or IPA
APA or IPA

"Personally, I like a big American Pale Ale or IPA with a burger. I think a good dose of hops is essential for cutting through the fat and toppings. At The Saint, we do a great brisket and chuck burger with a bone marrow aioli, aged cheddar and dill relish, it works like magic with Mad Tom IPA, a great ballsy beer from Muskoka Brewery in Ontario. If there's bacon on the burger (and there should be) a beer with a whiff of smoke or a smoked porter can be a great match. If there are especially sweet toppings like caramelized onions or a lot of ketchup, an amber ale might work better with more malt on offer." — Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern & George Brown Chef School)

American Pale Ale
American Pale Ale

"How do you make a great burger even more perfect? By pairing it with a great American Pale Ale from your local craft brewer. The fresher, the better, of course. So grab a growler full on your way home. APA possesses the complexity to stand up to the burger; yet it has enough balance to not overwhelm it. A great APA will have a nice malt backbone that is narrowly bested by the refreshing pine and citrus bitterness of Pacific Northwest hops. The malt will resonate with the sweet condiments, the bakery notes of the bun and the creamy, lactic sweetness of the cheese. It will soften the crispy char of the burger, the bitter bite of the mustard, and the tangy sour of the ketchup and pickles. The hop forwardness will cut through the richness of the beef, the mayo and the cheese. Most importantly the hop aftertaste will cleanse and refresh the palate for the next bite.— Anne Conness (Simmzy's & Tin Roof Bistro)

Brown Ales, Porters, Or Stouts
Brown Ales, Porters, Or Stouts

"Usually with a traditional burger I’m drinking traditional British brown ales, porters, or stouts. Nothing too robust, too hop forward, or with too much of an 'edge'… That includes nothing that’s overly carbonated. If it were a guest or a friend, I’d give the traditional recommendation of something with a bit of hops or other refreshing quality in the finish to help keep it for being too heavy (New Belgium Fat Tire, Brooklyn Lager, Boulevard Pale Ale)…but for me, when I’m enjoying a big greasy cheeseburger, I’m kind of in the mood for a belly-bomb and am not worried about a beer making the meal any lighter. Browns, porters, and stouts usually have a bit of toastiness or a bit of roastiness that pairs well with the browned beef on the bun, and I find that the fact these beers are more malt forward really helps complement what sometimes comes off as mellow sweetness in a nice fatty mound of ground beef. I even prefer if I can get the aforementioned brews from a nitro-tap to help with the heavy/creamy sensation that I’m going for with a big burger. Specific beers I enjoy with a burger would be Fuller’s London Porter, New Holland’s Poet, and Sam Smith’s Nut Brown Ale."— Jonathan Whitaker (International Tap House)

Are You a Mustard Person?
Are You a Mustard Person?

"Your choice of condiments is a huge factor. Let’s face it: we don’t just put a dab of sauce on our burgers, we smother them. Are you a mustard person? A dry, grassy saison pairs well; it will cut the burger’s fat and the funky, herbal qualities pair well with the mustard. There are a lot of great saisons out there: Look for Funkwerks, De Ranke, or any from Hill Farmstead. How about BBQ? I want a light bodied, roasty, darker beer to pair with the molasses and smoke. Deschutes’ Black Butte Porter works well, as will a good brown ale. Go local if you can (I like Real Ale’s Brewhouse Brown). And if you like that high fructose ketchup all over your burger (may Grill Masters everywhere take pity on your soul), you deserve a frosty Bud Light." — Justin Bonard (The Meddlesome Moth)